Nassau County law enforcement officials have a message for partying teens this prom season: No drinking alcohol and driving, but if you do drink, take a free taxi ride home.
Acting Nassau District Attorney Madeline Singas and Nassau Police Chief of Patrol Frank Kirby on Wednesday announced a partnership with Larry Blessinger, vice president of All Island Transportation, to provide cab rides to impaired teens anywhere in Nassau.
At a media briefing outside Winthrop-University Hospital in Mineola, Singas denied officials were sending a mixed message to teens, who are under the legal drinking age of 21, by saying if they break the law, they can get a free ride with no questions asked. The taxi company is picking up the tab, officials said.
"I don't think it's a mixed message," Singas said. "I think all of us are realistic because we know what goes on out there. The message is: Don't drink and drive. Don't drink. But at the same time, if you know that people are going to be drinking, then make a plan."
In Suffolk, Sgt. Kathleen Kenneally, executive officer of the department's Community Response Bureau, said school resource officers give presentations during prom season and throughout the year about the dangers of underage drinking and the "social host law," which makes it illegal for adults to provide alcohol to anyone underage.
In some districts, Kenneally said, both students and their parents are required to attend a social host law presentation to get their prom tickets.
"Because they're younger, they don't understand the amount of alcohol they ingest, there are so many things that can happen," Kenneally said.
Dr. Barry Rosenthal, chairman of the department of emergency medicine at Winthrop, said the leading cause of death for teenagers is motor vehicle accidents, and about one-quarter of those involve alcohol use, citing statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We see nothing worse than children and young adults being killed in accidents," Rosenthal said. "And there is nothing more devastating than breaking that news to parents and siblings."
Rosenthal, referencing a recent teen driver fatality involving alcohol, said: "If I can describe the wailing and the distress of the parents who came in to identify their teenager who died in the accident, it's indescribable, and I think that if anyone witnessed that . . . they might give pause before they drink and put themselves in a situation that would cause such devastation."
Blessinger said those requesting rides will remain anonymous: "I am not going to be running to the police."
"If a teenager has had too much to drink at a prom, or is under the influence of a narcotic, we'll be glad to take them home," he said.
Students who need a ride on prom night can call 516-326-9090 to arrange a ride.